By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published Sep 17, 2008 at 8:27 AM

My foray into the world of "man candles" began almost accidentally. As the smell of fresh, black coffee wafted around my office one morning, I thought to myself, "Someone should make a coffee-scented candle."

Not a cappuccino or hazelnut or mocha candle. Just something that smelled like hot, strong, black coffee. You know, a candle that a dude could be proud to burn.

A quick Google search led me to two eCommerce sites that sell all sorts of man-themed scents -- like campfire, sawdust, pigskin, bacon, stripper and beer.

I had to learn more.

Both Hotwicks and Manterns sent me some samples, and both offerings have their respective strengths. The Manterns, for example, vary in terms of scent authenticity (though they are pleasant and manly), but they came in large "rocks" glasses that can literally be used for drinking cocktails when the wax has been burned off.

The Hotwicks candles, by comparison, are smaller and sport kitschier packaging -- but their scents are right on. Both are domestically made, and Manterns are contain 100 percent soy-blend wax.

After subjecting my co-workers to a week of scents like "forest," "freshly mowed grass" and "dryer sheets," I got back in touch with the owners of both companies to get the low-down on these clever "mandles."

"My wife and I were walking to brunch with family when, just as we passed a store window with a candle display, we caught a whiff of that awesome outdoor burning wood smell," says Mike Chorazak of Hotwicks.

"My brother in-law and I commented that they should make a candle that smells like that and started joking about other manly candle smells. After brunch I tried to find some manly candles online but had no luck. Within a week I had my first candle kit mailed to me, and a few months later I quit my job to run Hotwicks fulltime."

Manterns founder Tom O'Dea says he had the idea about five years ago, and the market for man-themed candles is growing.

"More men are buying candles these days, albeit most of which are of the traditional scent variety. While we think it's funny and most people might assume that it's a joke gift, our candles actually smell pretty good," says O'Dea. "Not to mention you're getting a really nice drinking glass out of it, too."

Chorazak says his candles aren't specifically designed for men (though one has to assume that "stripper" and "pigskin" are male-oriented).

"Our customer has a nose and a sense of humor ... their plumbing is irrelevant. Hotwicks just saw a candle industry with about as much variety as a Soviet-era grocery store and thought we could spice it up a bit," says Chorazak.

As for selecting the scents, Chorazak brainstormed dozens and distilled them down to a handful, and he literally gets hundreds of ideas per month on his site.

"Smell evokes a lot of interesting memories, so we get a mixed bag of clever, frightening and funny suggestions," says Chorazak.

O'Dea says his most popular candle is "ballpark" scent. "The sports-themed candles seem to be popular, and the I think the combination of fresh air, cut grass and stale beer is too just hard for people to resist."

Some scents work, and some don't, says Chorazak. "Beer" has sold especially well, while "malt liquor" didn't quite work out. Chorazak still produces the candles himself, but says it takes a lot of trial and error: " We sniffed a lot of men's rooms before getting the 'urinal cake' candle just right."

O'Dea, too, says he couldn't pull off some scents the way he wanted: "We made a really good run at a 'hot wings' scent that we just couldn't quite get to smell right. It's a possibility for the future but meat-based food scents are very difficult to replicate."

For Chorazak, who worked in marketing for The Gap, Yahoo and Nike, the business took off quickly and he became a full-time candle maker in July 2007. He's working on 24 new scents, though it's unknown if he'll score another hilarious hit like the "stripper" candle, which, naturally, is covered glitter.

Says Chorazak, "Of course, the 'stripper' candle is hugely popular ... globally. We hope to one day see 'stripper scented candles' listed as a chief U.S. export."

For now, Chorazak sella Hotwicks exclusively online and to wholesalers, while O'Dea is strictly online through his site Chorazak says he's endured the typical challenges of entrepreneurship, but is happy he made the choice -- though he didn't imagine this is exactly how his career would pan out.

Says Chorazak, "Growing up I was almost certain I'd be a space marine or fighting robots in post-apocalyptic nuclear winter, so no, candle making never crossed my mind. I'm pretty happy with the way it all turned out, though."

And neither Chorazak nor O'Dea will share many trade secrets about producing mandles, though they both say the process requires a lot of testing -- and a lot of trial and error.

"We're constantly on the lookout for efficiencies and ways to make them better and faster," says Chorazak. "The only trade secret I can share is 'wear rubber gloves with the dye.' I once dyed my fingers a urinal cake shade of pink for several days, which made for awkward explanations."

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.